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National Debt by President: LBJ to Obama

Correction: The original version of this article contained incorrect data for "days in office" that resulted in an error in the compound annual growth rate of the national debt during "partial term" presidencies. The figures have been corrected.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As Americans prepared to ring in the new year, their government was ringing up its largest national debt in history.

On Dec. 31, 2010, the U.S. public debt passed $14,000,000,000,000 (that's $14 trillion).

On the last day of 2010, the U.S. public debt grew by more than $150 billion, putting the total figure above $14 trillion. Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

For the average American earning an annual salary of $32,048, the number might be hard to fathom.

The combined market capitalization of America's 10 largest companies: Exxon Mobil (XOM), Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A), GE (GE), Wal-Mart (WMT), Google (GOOG), Chevron (CVX), Procter & Gamble (PG), and IBM (IBM) is $2.25 trillion.

In the coming weeks, America will again bump against the $14.3 trillion debt-ceiling last approved by congressional bill H.J.RES.45, signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 12, 2010.

White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Austan Goolsbee warns that a failure to raise the debt-ceiling is "essentially defaulting on our obligations, which is totally unprecedented in American history. ... The impact on the economy would be catastrophic."

Not everyone agrees.

In an interview with The Gold Report, Doug Casey, chairman of Casey Research, argues that "once the U.S. government defaults on its debt, people will think twice before lending it any more money; giving politicians the ability to borrow is like giving a teenager a bottle of whiskey and the keys to a Corvette ... the debt is an albatross around the necks of the next several generations; it's criminal to make indentured servants out of people who aren't even born yet."

Adding to the national debt is more than $100 trillion in estimated future costs associated with Social Security, Medicare, prescription drug benefits and the liabilities of government-sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. A 21-year old taxpayer entering the workforce can anticipate a personal obligation of approximately $1.1 million.

Since 1964, the U.S. debt had accelerated fastest under President Ronald Reagan, at an annualized growth rate of 14.18% -- a record held until Jan. 20, 2009. Following the inauguration of President Obama, the national debt has grown at an annualized rate of 15.21% -- a statistic that might give Democratic leadership pause ahead of an imminent debt-ceiling vote.

The following pages contain the annualized growth rate of the national debt under Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Lyndon B. Johnson.

President Barack Obama

  • Jan. 20, 2009: $10,626,877,048,913.08
  • Jan. 4, 2011: $14,025,215,218,708.52
  • Days in Office: 715
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 15.21%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President George W. Bush

  • Jan. 20, 2001: $5,727,776,738,304.64
  • Jan. 20, 2009: $10,626,877,048,913.08
  • Days in Office: 2,922
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 8.03%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President Bill Clinton

  • Jan. 20, 1993*: $4,188,092,107,183.60
  • Jan. 20, 2001: $5,727,776,738,304.64
  • Days in Office: 2,922
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 3.99%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

*Note: Daily public debt data does not exist before 1993 -- the following outstanding debt data has been taken from monthly Treasury statements which are tabulated as of the last day of the respective month.

President George H.W. Bush

  • Jan. 20, 1989*: $2,697,957, 000,000
  • Jan. 20, 1993*: $4,188,092,107,183.60
  • Days in Office: 1,460
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 11.62%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President Ronald Reagan

  • Jan. 20, 1981*: $934,073,000,000
  • Jan. 20, 1989*: $2,697,957, 000,000
  • Days in Office: 2,922
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 14.18%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President Jimmy Carter

  • Jan. 20, 1977*: $653, 907,000,000
  • Jan. 20, 1981*: $934,073,000,000
  • Days in Office: 1,460
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 9.32%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President Gerald Ford

  • Aug. 9, 1974*: $481,792,000,000
  • Jan. 20, 1977*: $653, 907,000,000
  • Days in Office: 895
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 13.28%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President Richard Nixon

  • Jan. 20, 1969*: $362,629,668,607
  • Aug. 9, 1974*: $481,792,000,000
  • Days in Office: 2,026
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 5.25%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov

President Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Nov. 22, 1963*: $308,567,018,756
  • Jan. 20, 1969*: $362,629,668,607
  • Days in Office: 1,885
  • Compounded Annual Growth Rate: 3.18%

Photo Credit: Whitehouse.gov -- used with permission under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Data Source: TreasuryDirect.gov




On Sept. 7, 2000, New York's national debt clock was running in reverse, ultimately deactivated at $5,676,989,904,887.

The clock was reactivated in 2002 and expanded, shortly thereafter. If history serves as any guide to future political actions, we're going to need a bigger clock.

-- Written by John DeFeo in New York City

Have an opinion on the national debt -- please share in the comments section below.

*Note: Daily public debt data does not exist before 1993 -- the following outstanding debt data has been taken from monthly Treasury statements which are tabulated as of the last day of the respective month.

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